Could desalinated water be killing hundreds annually?

Study shows lack of magnesium contributes to heart failure.

Water dripping from a tap (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Water dripping from a tap
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
In the four years since its approval, Israel has failed to implement a pilot program to restore to drinking water the magnesium lost in the desalination process. Now, a new Israeli study proves that drinking desalinated water lacking magnesium is a significant contributing factor to hundreds of deaths per year among heart patients.
Israel desalinates more of its water supply than any other country in the world, with 75 percent of the country’s tap water now being desalinated.
In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also was serving as health minister, and current Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who was then deputy health minister, decided to launch a pilot project in Ashkelon to restore to drinking water the magnesium that is lost in the desalination process, calling the matter “urgent” due to the increasing share of purified sea water that is being used for drinking.
Magnesium protects heartbeat regularity, and thus prevents cardiac infarctions.
The lack of magnesium in the drinking-water supply is believed to cause the deaths of a few hundred Israelis per year.
Yet, while the Health Ministry backed the project, the Finance Ministry and Water Authority opposed it given what they estimated would be an annually cost of several hundreds of millions of shekels. The Health Ministry, however, argued that the price would have been less than 10% of that amount.
“[The ministry’s position] is to add magnesium to desalinated water,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron- Greenboim told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. “It intended to carry out a pilot to examine the feasibility and costs of adding magnesium at the desalination plants. The public tender for running the pilot was published again after no winner was chosen in the first tender because none of the applicants met the minimum conditions.”
The new study, titled “Desalinated seawater supply and allcause mortality in hospitalized acute myocardial infarction patients from the Acute Coronary Syndrome” was just published in the prestigious International Journal of Cardiology by Prof. Yona Amitai, Dr. Ilan Goldenberg, Dr. Meital Shlezinger and Dr. Michael Shechter of Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Center.
The mineral, they explained, is also a “cofactor for more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body and essential for energy production; protein synthesis; synthesis of nucleic acids; and regulating vascular tone and insulin sensitivity.”
In addition, they said, “the modern diet of processed foods, which is spreading globally, is low in magnesium, thereby accentuating the potential benefit” of adding magnesium to desalinated water.
The authors noted that Israel began producing desalinated sea water in 1978 but the level has increased steeply over just the past decade. Fresh water from the Israeli National Water Carrier accumulated in underground aquifers or the Kinneret naturally have significant amounts of magnesium and calcium, they wrote, but when salt and other minerals together with it are removed from the Mediterranean’s sea water, little or none of the minerals remain.
The World Health Organization has recommended in its report on drinking water that it “would be appropriate” to consider re-mineralizing with calcium and magnesium salts.
While the medical literature includes epidemiological and clinical studies and data from animal studies and human autopsies about the effects of inadequate magnesium, the Israeli experts stated that “so far, there are no reports on the effect of desalinated water consumption, which lacks magnesium, on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.
“Thus, we have evaluated the risk for 30-day and one-year mortality in patients living in regions where drinking water predominantly contained desalinated water compared with those living in regions supplied by standard [non-desalinated] drinking water.”
Their results for 30-day all-cause-mortality was significantly higher in the patients who had lived in areas supplied only with desalinated water compared to non-desalinated water. Therefore, they attributed the surplus deaths to the lack of magnesium intake of the former.